I ran into Samuel, age 24, after not crossing paths with him for a long time. He said he was working for the local supermarket, in the bread department. His father, who was with him, commented that the outfit was grateful to have someone who would be on time, polite, and work hard—what used to be the minimum expected qualifications for a job.
As it happens, I saw Samuel the very next morning as I was sitting in the aforementioned supermarket’s café area, reading my Bible. He came up and said hi, then excused himself to sit at a table a few feet from me. “I’m meeting a salesman,” he explained.
Within minutes an older gentleman came in, carrying a clipboard and papers, and the two shook hands and sat across from each other and got down to business. I was not eavesdropping, but it was hard not to hear what they were talking about. Theirs was a no-nonsense discussion of what was “moving,” and what was not, in the bread aisle. Bold, rapid-fire decisions were being made and noted: “Cut down on the Italian,” they agreed. (Sales were sluggish.) Other items were increased, while others held steady.
I pondered what the management of a supermarket might have to teach us about the larger entities of national economics and government. What I was observing at the table near mine was the brilliance of the responsiveness of the ultimate in “local government”—a director of a bread department. I marveled at how well Samuel knew his sphere and its precise needs (less Italian, more gluten-free), as opposed to the general and inadequate knowledge of a faceless and remote control.
When Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New Jersey shore, Gov. Chris Christie criticized Congress and federal red tape for the sluggish response to the disaster: They had taken three months to approve a $50.7 billion relief fund. But I like best the way Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas president Richard Fisher described the ineffective and fractious lumbering of the centralized management of all things in a recent speech in Australia: “The federal government of the United States has at best exhibited the adaptive alacrity of a koala (without being anywhere as cute).”